Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

Picks of the Week | North Korea and Sony; Energy and Global Warming; Mental Health and Incarceration

Did North Korea Really Hack Sony?

Did North Korea Really Hack Sony? | Bloomberg

Cybersecurity Breaches Raise Questions | The New York Times

FBI warns of ‘destructive’ malware in wake of Sony attack | Reuters

That cyberspace has changed our way of life, the character of national power, the structure of the international system, and the dynamics of geopolitics is no longer up for debate. With cyberspace affecting all these areas and more, some wonder whether life is imitating art: could the latest breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment really be the work of North Korea as retribution for Sony’s upcoming comedy where two journalists, recruited by the CIA, plan to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un? Cybersecurity experts are divided on the issue, but the tale would certainly make for a gripping Hollywood thriller!

Everyone agrees that “the cyber attack against Sony is unprecedented in its personal nature and maliciously destructive scope, an attack not intended to enrich anyone or gather any sort of corporate or financial intelligence but specifically to humiliate and harm a specific multinational company—a truly massive crime.” The full extent of the Sony breach remains unknown, but so far Sony has had 11 terabytes of data stolen, including several unreleased films, various internal company documents, sensitive files with personal information, and confidential email attachments. The FBI sent a memo to specific US businesses early this week, and the now-leaked document warned that hackers had used malicious software to launch a destructive cyber attack in the United States, just after the devastating breach at Sony became known. It also indicated that the attack was designed to sabotage data with malware that destroys files and renders entire computer systems permanently damaged—something that many US officials have long feared would happen. With the attack at Sony, nightmare-scenarios have become reality.

The question now turns to who could be behind this latest breach, which was the first major destructive cyber attack waged against a company on U.S. soil.

Three prime suspects have emerged: a group called Guardians of Peace (GOP), a relatively unknown and obscure group who claimed responsibility via a Reddit post; the North Korean government, presumably angered by the film “The Interview”; or a disgruntled—and technologically talented—former employee.

Many cybersecurity experts, and competing studios in Hollywood—who would seem likely to be particularly concerned about such a breach—have doubts about the North Korea angle, and believe that someone on the inside, someone like a Snowden, is most likely responsible.

The sheer size of the Sony attack, however, as well as its possible objective, have convinced many others on the government and media side of things that North Korea is the prime suspect. They also contend that the perpetrators could be the same ones who infected major broadcasters and banks in South Korea with malware last year that made their machines unusable. Many suspected those attacks were the work of North Korea, but were never able to prove it definitively.

Regardless of whether the culprit is discovered, many doubt that there will be serious repercussions. As Bloomberg reports Richard Clarke saying, “So far, the U.S. government policy when a private company is attacked by a foreign nation-state, is that the U.S. government does not retaliate. It never has, and I don’t think it’s going to do that over Sony. I mean, when Iranians attacked the largest banks in the United States, the U.S. government did not retaliate.”-Francesca Spidalieri, Fellow for Cyber Leadership

Energy and Global Warming

Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question | Transition Milwaukee

Gas Prices Will Soon Drop Below $2 Per Gallon | Time

Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism?’: An Exchange | The New York Review of Books

Two recent news pieces raise deep questions about how we will use energy in the future. A widely-circulated piece last week from the blog of an organization called Transition Milwaukee argued that even people who are most concerned about global warming tend to ignore the deep changes that will need to take place if we shift away from reliance on fossil fuels as an energy source. (The heat-trapping layer of gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes largely from burning fossil fuels for energy.) His central, challenging point is that “fossil fuels have provided us with a one-time burst of unrepeatable energy and affluence” – i.e. that modern life as we all know it is founded on massive usage of a unique energy source that cannot be replaced easily if at all. Essentially fossil fuels are the results of natural forces acting over hundreds of millions of years to concentrate energy in a manageable substance: “A single, small, and easily portable gallon of oil is the product of nearly 100 tons of surface-forming algae (imagine 5 dump trucks full of the stuff), which first collected enormous amounts of solar radiation before it was condensed, distilled, and pressure cooked for a half-billion years …” He argues that rather than rely on wind or the sun to replace our current fossil fuel energy, we may simply have to live with much less energy. On the other hand, an article on Money ( points out that gas prices may soon dip below $2 per gallon in parts of the country. Can we realistically start to move away from an energy source that fuels our way of life, and may actually get cheaper in the short run? For further reading on this important question, see a recent exchange between Naomi Klein and Elizabeth Kolbert.- Joseph Grady, Senior Fellow for Public Policy

Mental health and Incarceration 

New York City Plans Focus on Mental Health in Justice System | The New York Times

Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net in San Antonio | NPR

U.S. Prisons Home to 10 Times More Mentally Ill Than State Hospitals | Aljazeera America

According to The New York Times, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration released a report earlier this week  focusing on mental health and the criminal justice system. The plan calls for the allocation of $130 million dollars (spent over four years) to combat the growing number of inmates with mental health and substance abuse problems in New York City’s jails. Under the new plan, the emphasis will shift from punishment for minor crimes to treatment. Officials hope that the plan will break the cycle of incarceration and recidivism. This is a positive and necessary step toward reducing the number of inmates in jail for low level offenses. Many steps will have to be taken to implement the plan, including some police officers receiving specialized training in dealing with people with mental health problems. (see New York Times story)

The city of San Antonio and Bexar County, Texas is a very good example of how police officer training and a focus on diverting people with serious mental illness out of jail and into treatment can significantly reduce incarceration rates while saving taxpayers a lot of money. A story on NPR’s health news blog explores how the mental health system there has been transformed into a program considered a model for the rest of the nation.

Other cities have made efforts to keep low-level offenders with mental illness out of jail. But much more reform is necessary at every level of the criminal justice in the country. Aljazeera America highlights how prisons in the United States house 10 times as many mental ill than state hospitals, according to a study earlier this year by the Treatment Advocacy Center.- Carolyn Deady, Fellow for Global Challenges

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